Teachers

Remote learning in the context of a pandemic: Three tenets

Using technology for deep learning

As an education consultant, I have the privilege of working with and learning from educators around the country. Normally, my work is focused on logistics, edtech and teacher training, support and development. 

Of course, nothing is currently normal. So for the past month, I’ve been working with educators to rapidly make the shift to remote learning.

As we’ve started executing, something I realized right away is that general remote teaching best practices won’t cut it right now… we’re in a pandemic! The traditional tenets of remote/distance/virtual learning can’t be used verbatim. 

After sifting through countless online resources and many 1:1 conversations with educators, I believe there are three big buckets teachers should prioritize during this pandemic: providing stability, sustaining relationships and innovating to support students.

           

These priorities generally follow Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Students (and humans!) need stability before they can do anything else. Then, they need strong relationships before they can access content. Finally, they need teachers and schools to make innovative choices to meet their needs given the vast barriers they’re facing.

Providing stability

Providing stability starts with internet and device access, but it doesn’t end there. Providing stability falls into four general buckets: basic needs, an organized learning space, consistent routines & expectations and accurate information.

Basic needs

While this may seem obvious, it bears repeating: if students and families don’t have access to basic needs, they can’t focus on learning. Basic needs include things like information about housing, food and internet access.

An organized learning space

After access to basic needs, students need an organized online learning space. 

For instance, you can use a tool like Hāpara Workspace to build organized, online units. Think about how students will access work, where and when– just like you would for traditional content. 

No matter what, keeping it simple and organized—especially to start—is vital. Considering how stressful of a time this is, I’m a big proponent of starting small and working up students’ stamina.

Consistent routines and expectations

Hand-in-hand with creating an organized learning space is creating consistent routines and expectations. 

I’ve been telling teachers to treat this like the beginning of the school year. You need to set clear, feasible expectations, and consistently communicate them to students and families. For example, if you want students to check in with you weekly, make sure this is clearly shared, along with how students can reach out to you.

A few ways you can share routines and expectations include:

  • A central Google Doc that walks through all student expectations
  • A video walkthrough embedded in a Hāpara Workspace where you introduce the online learning space and what students should be doing
  • Sending reminders to students and families via text or email

Accurate information

The last aspect of providing stability is offering accurate information to students. Given the amount of misinformation about COVID, it’s vital that we share timely, accurate and accessible information about COVID to students and families.

Guiding questions for providing stability:

  • Do my students have internet access? 
  • Do they have access to meals?
  • How am I setting clear expectations online? 
  • How can I create clear routines for students?

Sustaining relationships

Teachers have been working with students for most of the school year, so they already have relationships with most students. Now is the time to continue to build these relationships using a variety of mediums.

Thoughtful touchpoints

It’s more important than ever to stay connected with students, and thanks to technology there are lots of ways to do that. Some ideas include:

  • Video office hours. Some teachers I work with have been offering office hours via a video conferencing tool. They recommend keeping the time consistent and reminding students about office hours multiple times. You can easily schedule a Google Classroom announcement 10 minutes before your office hours.
  • Offering a Google Form where students can share how they’re doing. This can easily be added to a Workspace, with the expectation that students fill it out daily or weekly. 
  • Texting and calling students and families. Many families at schools I support have mentioned how powerful it is to hear a teacher’s voice, and how it brings a sense of normalcy. 

Guiding questions for sustaining relationships:

  • How am I thinking of thoughtful touchpoints with my students? 
  • How can I touch base with students — text, email, video, etc.? 
  • Am I thinking about more than just academics? 
  • How am I bringing joy into my online learning space?

 

Innovating to support students

Right now, the status quo won’t work. You need to innovate your teaching strategies to support students. For instance, 

Asynchronous learning

Asynchronous learning generally means there is no set live meeting schedule. In my opinion, remote learning needs to be mostly asynchronous, especially for older students) because it:

  1. Gives students flexibility so they can work, take care of siblings, etc
  2. Allows teachers to better meet the needs of students by offering a variety of learning activities and various office hours

Attendance

In the same vein, remote learning requires an overhaul around the traditional concept of attendance. Instead of being focused on seat time (how many hours students are working), we should be focused on outcomes (what students are accomplishing). 

For example, you might replace daily attendance with a daily check-in on student work using a tool like Hāpara Dashboard. If students aren’t on pace to finish all assigned work, you can send them an email or leave a comment on their work. This places the focus on what students are accomplishing.

Assessment 

I’ve heard teachers share valid concerns about students cheating on assessments. This is a real fear. But I also wonder, if you’re giving students an assessment they can easily Google the answers to… was it a high-quality assessment to begin with?

Instead of prioritizing high-stakes standardized assessments, now is a great time to check students’ progress as they master skills via formative assessment. With Hāpara Dashboard, you can easily check students’ work and provide meaningful feedback via the commenting and suggesting features of Google Drive. As a teacher, I can’t think of a time where I had so much time to give students authentic, personalized feedback.

Guiding questions for innovating to support students:

  • What notions of learning do I need to reevaluate (like attendance or class periods)? 
  • What knowledge, skills and mindsets do I need to adjust to better meet the needs of my students?
  • What programs can I use to support remote learning?

Finally, it needs repeating that this is our first pandemic (unless you were around in 1918!). We need to be gentle with ourselves. Do a facial, go for a walk, grab a snack… you deserve it! You shouldn’t be expecting perfection when it comes to a skill you’ve never had the opportunity to practice!

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